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Everything You've Been Too Afraid To Ask About Kombucha

Proponents of the fizzy stuff maintain it is nothing short of a magical elixir that can cure all ills, while scientific research is more hesitant to jump on the kombucha bandwagon.

Is kombucha consumption a fleeting fad to be ignored, or is the beverage’s popularity well deserved? Let’s get to the bottom of the fermenting barrel to find out whether kombucha is as great as its fans claim, and figure out how to make and utilize your own brew at home.
Kombucha: What Is It?
Kombucha is a fermented tea that has been used around the world for centuries.[1] The drink may have originated in Manchuria in 220 B.C., although its origins are a bit murky.[2] At its simplest, the beverage is made by adding a bacterial culture and yeast to a mixture of tea (most commonly oolong, green, black, or white) and sugar. Some people choose to add fruit or fruit juice for extra flavor. The end result is an acidic beverage packed with B vitamins and antioxidants.[3]

The fermentation process produces not only the beverage so many people enjoy but also what’s called a SCOBY—a “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast” (the gelatinous stuff you may find floating in a kombucha bottle).[4] The SCOBY helps ferment the tea into kombucha.[5] The brewing process takes about a week. At the end of it, brewers are left with a slightly sweet, notably tart beverage that, depending on who you ask, may or may not be packed with health benefits.

Health Cure-All or Hoax?

While many kombucha fans believe the drink can cure almost any ailment you can think of, science has yet to back this enthusiasm. A few studies suggest kombucha may have very real health benefits including the ability to improve respiratory function, sooth ulcers, boost energy, improve metabolism, and promote detoxification in the body.[6][7][8][9] However, most of these studies have been conducted on rats; very little research has looked at kombucha’s health effects on human bodies. Still, kombucha does boast health benefits in the form of antioxidants and probiotics, or healthy bacteria that have been linked to improved immunity, attitude, and general health.[10]

For the most part, kombucha doesn’t seem to pose many health concerns except when consumed in excess or brewed in unsanitary conditions. Either of these circumstances may result in upset stomach, acidosis (when the body contains too much acid), or allergic reactions to mold or bad bacteria that may form in an unsanitary batch.[11]

As with most things, it seems moderation is key. Some people report real health benefits as a result of kombucha consumption, and some don’t. Your best bet is to give it a try (if you’re so inclined) and listen to your body to find out what works for you.

Despite the lack of scientific inquiry into kombucha’s benefits, the beverage has only continued to skyrocket in popularity around the globe, especially in the United States. Earlier this year, some kombucha producers reported annual sales increases of up to 73 percent, and the drink now fills around one-third of Whole Foods’ refrigerated beverage shelf space.[12][13] Whether or not science has caught up with the trend, it seems kombucha is here to stay.

How to Brew Kombucha at Home
Ready to give kombucha a try? There are all kinds of kombucha recipes for the aspiring home brewer. Recipes vary by flavor and intensity, and the best way to find your preferred kombucha is to experiment with a variety of recipes.

Still, most recipes share the basics. At a minimum, you’ll need the following equipment to get started:[14]

◾Tea (either bagged or loose)
◾Starter tea (a little bit of kombucha) (optional)
◾SCOBY, which you can obtain by:
◾Purchasing a starter culture (called a “mother”)
◾Using one from a friend who has extra from their own home brewing
◾Growing your own from scratch using these instructions [15]
◾Large glass jars
◾Flavorings such as fruit juice, chopped fruit, honey, herbs, spices, or flavored tea (optional)
◾Stock pot
◾Small funnel
◾Smaller glass jars to store the finished product

The kombucha brewing process generally looks something like this (recipe slightly adapted from The Kitchn):[16]

◾Mix the tea base: Steep the tea and dissolve the sugar into the tea.
◾Transfer the sweetened tea to jars and add a SCOBY to each jar: You may choose to add starter tea during this step.
◾Ferment the mixture for seven to 10 days: Taste the kombucha after seven days, and continue to ferment until you achieve a flavor you like. The tea should be mildly sweet and noticeably tart. As soon as you like the taste, you can bottle the kombucha.
◾Remove the SCOBY: You may use it to start another batch of kombucha. Store the SCOBY in sweet tea in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it again. Around every other batch, you’ll be able to separate the original kombucha SCOBY (the “mother”) from the new SCOBY layer (the “baby”) that forms on it. Once you’ve separated them, use the baby to start the next batch of kombucha and compost or share the mother.[17]
◾Bottle the finished batch: Use the small funnel to pour the kombucha into the smaller jars. Set aside a little bit of kombucha to use as starter tea for another batch, if desired. This is also the time to add any flavorings.
◾Carbonate the kombucha: Allow it to sit at room temperature (make sure it’s not exposed to direct sunlight). After one to three days, move the kombucha to the refrigerator. (Note: Some recipes suggest transferring the finished kombucha directly to the refrigerator, instead of letting it sit out to carbonate. This results in a less fizzy kombucha).

The Takeaway

The jury is still out on whether kombucha is truly a wonder tonic, but the beverage’s probiotic content ensures some health claims are spot on. The best way to find out if kombucha feels good to you is to go ahead and try it. If you like it, save yourself some money and enter the wonderful world of home brewing.